Explain the relationship between Aeneas and Dido in the Aeneid. Was the love of Aeneas for Dido only infatuation?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ancient epics such as Virgil's Aeneid offer a couple of ways of looking at these seminal relationships. On a simple and realistic level, Dido is infatuated with Aeneas. In Greece, the goddess Ate represents mischief or ruin, and certainly Dido's infatuation with the Trojan warrior destined to found Rome...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Ancient epics such as Virgil's Aeneid offer a couple of ways of looking at these seminal relationships. On a simple and realistic level, Dido is infatuated with Aeneas. In Greece, the goddess Ate represents mischief or ruin, and certainly Dido's infatuation with the Trojan warrior destined to found Rome is marked by folly and mischief. Her overwhelming passion for him causes this once remarkable Queen to lose interest in Carthage and her responsibilities. As the response below indicates, Dido's privileging her personal relationship with Aeneas over their respective political duties suggests an irrational and, to Virgil, blame-worthy choice. By never succumbing completely to his own passion for Dido or his desire to remain comfortably in Carthage as Dido's husband, Aeneas demonstrates the selfless and and stoic approach to life and leadership the Romans valued.

At the same time, Dido falls in love with Aeneas under Venus's spell, and Juno also seems intent on thwarting Aeneas's progress. These interventions suggest a somewhat less obvious reason for Dido's infatuation and her decision to neglect the building of her city. The gods themselves provide many reasons to blame others for the disastrous events in the epic.

In either case, Virgil seems intent on stressing the importance of collective or political rather than personal motivations in Aeneas's choices.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The relationship between Dido and Aeneas is quite complicated. They are romantically involved, yet on a thematic level, they symbolize two differing modes of leadership.

When it comes to their romantic feelings, Dido and Aeneas's relationship appears genuine on both sides; however, Aeneas has a better handle on his emotions, not allowing his heart to compromise his goals for his people. Aeneas is pained when he realizes he must choose between his destiny and Dido, but he knows pursuing his purpose is the right choice in the bigger picture. His rationality is contrasted with Dido's raging, self-destructive obsession. Unlike Aeneas, who can live without Dido even if he does not want to, Dido chooses to kill herself in her romantic frustration.

Dido and Aeneas are foils in how they handle their duties as leaders. Aeneas chooses the greater good over his personal interests, while Dido does the opposite. When Dido burns herself upon a pyre of Aeneas's things and their "marriage bed," this serves as a symbolic illustration of how she allows romantic love to destroy not only what's in her best interest, but what's in the best interests of her people, since they are now without a queen.

The relationship between these two characters takes on a historical dimension as well. Dido's dying curse upon Aeneas and his people is meant as a foreshadowing of the later Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The short answer to your question is: no. In my view the feeling Aeneas has for Dido amounts to much more than "infatuation." However, in antiquity the concept of what we consider romantic love was somewhat different from ours. And the Greek and Roman authors typically (and unsurprisingly) judge men and women differently with regard to their feelings and loyalties toward each other.

Aeneas knows that regardless of the depth of his feeling for Dido, it must be subordinated to the mission assigned to him by the gods: the founding of a great city and a new civilization which (in the prophecy spoken to him by Venus) will bring peace and justice to the world at large. Even if he loves Dido, he is compelled to abandon her for this reason.

That said, unfortunately, Aeneas does not show much empathy for her upon his departure. Dido, of course, is devastated by his abandonment of her. Aeneas reacts coldly, seeming to say that he never promised her anything. The tragic suicide of Dido, in Virgil's conception, results from the conflict between love and the plan of the gods for the world and for civilization. In the ethic of the Greco-Roman world of antiquity, even if a man and a woman have the deepest passion for each other, as both Dido and Aeneas (as well) do, other factors take priority over their love.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The relationship between Aeneas and Dido is a complicated one, especially because it was set in motion by the goddess Venus, who wanted to ensure her son Aeneas' glorious future. Thus, when Aeneas is shipwrecked at Carthage, Venus makes Dido fall in love with Aeneas (see Aeneid 1).

In Aeneid 4, the bond between Aeneas and Dido is further strengthened when Venus and Juno arrange for Aeneas and Dido to consummate their relationship in a physical way. Thus, Juno says, "I’ll join them firmly in marriage" (A.S. Kline translation).

The text, however, makes it clear that Dido was more keen on the relationship than Aeneas was. She is the one who was "wounded long since by intense love" (Aeneid 4.1).

So, I would probably say that Aeneas' attraction to Dido was primarily physical. Vergil, however, is rather silent about how Aeneas feels about Dido.

This relationship is also complicated by the historical allegory behind it. Vergil's Roman audience would have noticed parallels between Aeneas and Dido and Julius Caesar and Cleopatra and Marc Antony and Cleopatra. These pairings of Roman male and African female, as Vergil's audience knew, were doomed to fail. Furthermore, Vergil's audience would recall their long-time hostility with the Carthaginians and would know that such a relationship as that between Dido and Aeneas was not sustainable.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team